Like Jethro Tull, The Moody Blues receive all the critical acclaim they deserve and they quietly maintain a legion of fans ranging from Baby Boomers on down the generation chain. The Moodies organized themselves in the mid-sixties on a common adhesive binding many British groups of their day, i.e. American delta blues. What came about through this union which, like Tull, daringly incorporated flute within a progressive rock infrastructure, is one of rock n' roll's most underrated bands which sadly couldn't compete with the sales-inflated Rolling Stones nor the sheer writing brilliance of The Beatles. Devoid of both bands, would we not be talking more about The Moody Blues?
While most people are familiar with The Moody Blues' most well-known songs "Question," "The Story in Your Eyes," "Tuesday Afternoon," "Ride My See-Saw," "I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock 'n Roll Band)," "The Voice," "Your Wildest Dreams" and their dark seductive epic "Nights in White Satin" courtesy of FM classic stations, the deeply-flung listeners are wont to cue up the early doings of the band's career such as "Gypsy," "Dear Diary," "Lazy Day," "Go Now," "Steal Your Heart Away," "Never Comes the Day" and "Legend of a Mind."
Hard to fathom a band of such fabulously-orchestrated acid-blues prog could be relegated to mere singles in rock's massive accounts (the 20th Century Masters Collection is simply hopeless in this fact), but the forlorn pitched vocals, the Augustine swirls and the subtle Mellotron breezing through "Nights in White Satin" are so impactful it's easy to see why it scored even amongst the less-progressive-minded of listeners. Unfortunately, like The Doors' "Light My Fire," The Moody Blues saw the original cut of their ambitious creation criminally sliced to make it more compact for commercial radio. Never mind the melancholic sonnet recited in the second half of "Nights in White Satin" appears only on their brilliant Days of Future Passed and the few rebellious stations willing to broadcast the piece as guitarist/vocalist Justin Hayward penned it in his late teens. Immoral to rob such early-on latent genius.
At the time The Moody Blues were recruited to fly out to the island Afton Down for the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, one of the largest music gatherings in rock history, "Nights in White Satin" had put the Moodies on the map. Even with a do-as-you-will onstage ethic—much like the original Woodstock—the Moodies settled for the abbreviated version of "Nights in White Satin" onstage. Of course their night-to-day concept album Days of Future Passed was heralded as one of rock's first prog albums despite the trancy and rhythmic In Search of the Lost Chord and the subsequent soul and psych-oriented On the Threshold of a Dream.
The 1970 Isle of Wight Festival had its share of turmoil as well as showcasing the greatest rock musicians on the planet (as it did in years past) such as The Who, Jimi Hendix, Joan Baez, The Doors, Free, Miles Davis, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Donovan, Jethro Tull, Sly and the Family Stone, Procol Harum, Cactus, and the early funk-rock incorporation of Chicago. The idealistic flower power transformation was beginning to fizzle out as Vietnam was in wind-down operations and the airs of capitalism were beginning to settle in. The fact a barrier was set around the festival grounds on an island merely provoked those without the means of a ticket to practically riot outside the partition.
It was in this climate The Moody Blues performed a powerful and enigmatic set to a largely-European audience which received them with perhaps less raucous accord for 600,000-strong, albeit "Nights in White Satin" as well as "Legend of a Mind" proverbially brought the house down.
Threshold of a Dream: Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 recaptures the Moodies' entire set at this pivotal venue while incorporating the viewpoints of the band in an extensive opening montage. Justin Hayward, John Lodge, Ray Thomas, Graeme Edge and Mike Pinder recollect who they were as young gentlemen shirked of their clean-cut British Invasion three pieces, ushered into skin-tight denim and earthy shirts. A band which would later go on to embrace synthesizer-oriented pop-prog, using "The Voice" or "Gemini Dream" for example, The Moody Blues circa 1970 might've been upstaged by some of their betters, but there's no doubt they pulled off a convincing set of their own with the salty air at their backs and seagulls boasting the most fortuitous vantage.
What's important about watching Threshold of a Dream today is to get a better idea of where future prog acts such as Nektar, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Dream Theater, Fates Warning and of late, Bigelf, got some of their kitsch. The Moodies were one of the first to utilize the Mellotron, which when mastered by the likes of Mike Pinder, could represent an entire orchestra at the summoning of mere fingers. The Mellotron is as much a part of the early Moodies' identity as Justin Wayward's gusty singing and Ray Thomas' interjected fluting. It's rather amusing throughout the Moodies' time in music to watch Thomas bounce and shuck while waiting to deliver his parts; unlike the overenthusiastic keyboard players of the eighties and beyond who grossly exaggerate their rock star poses. Thomas always appears to be in the moment with his flute tucked beneath his arm as much as he does beckoning it from his lips.
"Never Comes the Day," "Tortoise and the Hare," "The Sunset," "Melancholy Man" and "Legend of a Mind" all sparkle in the Isle of Wight set, tunes that may not come soaring to mind for the average listener, but encapsulated within a group in their early twenties who were decidedly at their fullest capacities together, the effect is riveting. "Tuesday Afternoon" is icing on the cake with maybe a slight stepping-up in tempo, yet it remains one of the Boomers' less-celebrated anthems, a slice of idyllic summertime nirvana which might as well nudge itself snugly behind The Mama and the Papas' "Monday Monday."
While the crowd-pleasing "Ride My See-Saw" wraps this set, you're still hung over from the charismatic delivery of "Nights in White Satin," pushed to the nth of its full charge, and no doubt the Isle of Wight faithful had to have felt like their oxygen had been siphoned. At times the film footage shows random attendees with their mouths hanging agape and/or shaking their heads in disbelief. A sobering picture to a band deserving of more credit than they get...